Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Fly By

I remembered this one after talking with all of my flyfishing friends. I’ve said before that I’m not a fly fisherman but at one time me and my buddies thought we would be. We even managed to catch fish which is amazing considering how bad we were. But we tried and good trip or bad we still had fun.

This is what we invisioned. Photo credit: James Cates

Me and Joey had decided to become the next great thing in flyfishing in our area. Of course we knew exactly zero about it but that didn’t stop us or even slow us down. After reading articles in magazines guaranteeing our present and future success we set about our new adventures as fly fishermen. I had been given a couple heavy fly rods with automatic reels loaded with some kind of floating line, Joey had gotten a combo pack from one of the local stores with everything included. These things had to be 8 weight rods which we deemed suitable since we were going to be big time bass catchers with them. We bought some flies shown in a magazine, tried to figure out how tippets worked, picked out a couple of popping bugs and headed to the pond.

Photo credit: Shamelessly used from the internet. Thanks to poster.

The idea that just maybe learning to cast in the yard before we went fishing had been mentioned then disregarded as unnecessary. Our test pond in Shelby Park is full of fish. Bass, bluegill and crappie were there for the taking, all of which, the magazines assured us, would willing leap onto all of their top picks in the fly department. We got pond side, rigged up, then proceeded to head down the bank least infested with trees. We stripped line off our reels then started what can best be described as flailing about, trying to get our popping bugs moving forward in the general direction of some water. This resulted in several sonic booms as line tips cracked like whips and popping bugs became as dust in the wind, gently drifting to earth in a puff of balsa and feathers, leaving sad bare hooks behind.

We repeated this until we got our timing down enough to (A) not destroy the fly (B) not hook ourselves or tangle on our rods (3) finally hit somewhere in the pond without a splash like we had thrown a log in. We began a strip, pause, strip retrieve which much to our surprise little bluegill would check out and take despite our bad technique. We caught a few that day, even a couple of small bass which led us to believe we were ready for bigger and better things like big bass or maybe a nice rainbow trout. The fact that all of our streams are pretty much warm, slow moving water which didn’t have trout mattered not at all. We had it figured out.

Photo credit: another shameless use of the internet. Thanks to the poster.

A couple of counties away from Nashville we knew of a trout farm that used a spring to form ponds with water that stayed cold year round. Some fish got loose to inhabit the creek downstream for a mile or two. I can’t remember how we knew this but it really was true. People would fish this creek, Yellow Creek as I recall, to catch good trout in a part of the state where they normally couldn‘t live. That was enough for us, so off we go.

We drove for an hour or so arriving at streamside just as the sun was coming through the trees to light our way as mist lifted off the water. Pulling off to park on a gravel spot used by locals beside a road barely wide enough for our car this was our first step into the world of trout fishing. Summer temps were headed up fast but we were wet wading a shaded stream with cold water so didn’t need to worry about that. It turned out, just about midday, to be a good thing that we weren’t wearing waders. Choosing some trout flies, we eased into the water to get busy with the catching. Joey headed upstream while I headed downstream casting in our newly learned stealthy manner, barely raising more than a light froth and foam from the water.

Photo credit: James Cates

I went along getting the odd cast or two in the general vicinity of an undercut bank, mid stream rock or clump of tree roots. I was awarded for my effort with some bluegill along with more than a few flies left dangling from branches which had somehow gotten in the way of my backcasts. This was how I spent my morning until I decided to head back to find Joey to share notes and grab some lunch.

I waded back upstream, finally finding him at the downstream end of a large hole. He had his rod tucked under his right arm pointing straight up as he tied on a new offering. Just as he started to tighten the knot I saw a few ripples form around his knees, which was how far the water came up on his legs. He did that half lurch forward we all do when slipping on rocks while wading, hips going forward as his shoulders tilted back, then just disappeared. Hardly a splash at all, just not there, like the creek had inhaled him. As I stood there with my jaw hanging open all I could see was about 2 feet of his rod sticking above the surface. I threw my rod down on the bank to try and help when his rod began thrashing around in circles, bobbing up and down, then he popped back up amid much cussing and splashing. I got to him and helped him get to the bank. Other than being wet turns out he was fine, didn’t even drop his rod or lose his fly case.

We sat there getting warmed up, laughing about his swim. Turns out he was standing on the edge of a drop off he couldn’t tell was there. Some optical illusion caused the bottom to look flat even though it dropped a good 8-9 feet which is where Joey had decided to stop. One more step before I got there and I would have missed all the fun.

We finished up our day without anyone drowning or catching a single trout. This last part isn’t a surprise considering our complete lack of skill or knowledge. This was about the point we realized we weren’t good at creek fishing with fly rods, switching our efforts to local ponds and lakes with more success on warm water fish. We did get fairly good at catching bluegill or an odd bass or two but moved on before long to casting and spinning tackle never really going back to fly rods.

All my friends talking about fly fishing makes me want to pick one up again to revisit my youth as a would be fly slinger. Watching them post great pics of flies they are tying or have ordered just adds to my wanting to give it another go. Maybe I will get a chance to pick up a half decent outfit to join back in their fun, catch a few fish, add to the selection on my rod rack, tackle boxes and memories.

Sunday, March 27, 2011

Pleasant Surprise

I don’t make a habit of doing reviews or having product placement. I did that for a long time in my other life as a writer, nothing but look at this and how-to articles. But I am going to do a short one here because this is too good to not pass along.

If you use Twitter you know where to find me. I keep in touch with folks from all over, talking about all sorts of stuff. I use it for the social aspect but it has allowed me to meet people in all types of businesses. Mostly we don’t talk business but sometimes we do try to help each other by passing along information we think people need to know. This is one of those times.

For quite awhile I had been seeing a product from House Of Jerky mentioned from many of my friends. Honestly, I didn’t pay much attention to it since I don’t buy many snack foods even though I love jerky. I make venison jerky for myself and leave the stuff at the store there. It is expensive and for the most part, not too good. But I did start talking to Janie @HouseOfJerky on Twitter, not for the product but because she is someone good to talk to.

A few days ago she asked if I had gotten my package yet. Since I hadn’t ordered anything I said no was I supposed to? She says, oops, thought you were getting one. No problem says I, but she did ask for my address. Well, I got a care package of 5, yes 5, types of jerky in the mail. When I opened it I found 3 types of beef, one of wild boar and another of buffalo. Let the tasting begin.

I opened the wild boar first to see if I could stand it. I hunt pigs but sometimes I’m not crazy about the taste. I took a bite, you can tell it is wild pig but it is good, really good. Next I opened the buffalo and it was even better. All types are thin cut, about as perfectly seasoned as you can get and just plain tasty. After a couple of pieces I took it to the other side of the room to get it out of reach. If I hadn’t it would have been gone by now, not one pack, all the packs.

As for the flavors, I got several from teriyaki to black pepper to sweet and spicy. I did open one more to try, they are all good. The base is a bit sweet compared to the junk at the store but it helps blend the spices and calms the gamey taste you can get from the wild boar. It is also moist rather than the leather like stuff I am used to seeing. I know now why I was hearing so much about this brand of jerky. It is everything people said it was. It might be a good thing that there isn’t one of their stores closer to me, it might get ugly if it was easier for me to get.

So, if you like jerky that is actually good from a company that has folks that talk to you with great products, give House Of Jerky a try. I’m not impressed by many things but this is a good one. Check them out online at or find one of the stores and place an order or ten. Good stuff, what else can you say?

Disclaimer: Yes I received 5 packs of jerky to try. I did not request them nor did Janie ask for a review in any way, shape or form. There was nothing mentioned other than thanks for sending it, from me, and thanks for letting me know you got it, from her. This review, which will be a surprise to Janie, is my thanks for the gift and to let people know this is good eats.

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Spring Fling

Spring is slowly showing its influence around here. As things start to green up, waters warm and area lakes are brought up to summer pool, a parade of boats can be seen headed to lakes everywhere. Cabin fever is being broken after a miserable winter, fish are being caught, turkey and spring squirrel seasons are getting close. The time leaves are getting to the size of quarters on most of the trees is what we want. Early bloomers are past their peak, the dulcet sounds of the lawn mower drones across neighborhoods as they come out of hibernation to begin grazing on young shoots to ready themselves for their next winter sleep. Blue haired flower planters, another warm weather creature emerges, it can be observed head down rump up, toiling away in their spring rituals of cleaning plant beds and renewal of gardens. This is my signal to hitch up the boat, grab a couple of 6 ½ foot spinning rods and head to the river.

Yet again, I head off in a direction most people never go and to be honest many fishermen in our area have never heard of. The sexy species are active, crappie are going nuts, bass are hitting, even lowly catfish are being loaded into boats but I head down to Cheatham Dam just outside of Ashland City to catch white bass, stripe in this neck of the woods. A fish available all year but spring, summer and into fall brings on a bite hard to pass up. Downstream from Cheatham Dam or upstream from Clarksville, this stretch of river is a stripe hunter’s playground.

Spring is spawning season for stripe and first to arrive are smaller males followed by large egg laden females. On local rivers huge numbers congregate below dams, at the mouth of feeder creeks and along banks special only to them. The last two are where I head. I know if I sit upstream near the dam I can catch fish all day, so does everyone else fishing here which works to my advantage since they won’t go hunting fish. Years ago I was shown spots downstream where fish stack up in huge schools along unremarkable banks or in eddies formed by creeks feeding the Cumberland. Another good part is the simple tackle used to catch fish till your arms hurt. A ¼ oz plain lead jig head and a 3-4” soft plastic twister tail in white is cast into the current attached to a spinning rod loaded with 10# test. If you want to get fancy a #7 Countdown Rapala in shad is added to your baits or maybe a small Little George.

Running downstream from Cheatham river banks rise on both sides in plain dirt walls with a few tree lined creeks coming in from farm fields creating eddies fish hold in. The tricks are simple, slow your boat out in the current then bring it in quietly toward the eddy at a creek mouth trying to hold in the current to get casts into the slower water. Water from Cheatham’s turbines will push your boat out of position but a few casts along the downstream edge of the current break will bring results. After casting let your jig fall a few feet then simply start reeling without any added action. The strikes are savage no need to wonder if it was a fish. The other way is to find which banks hold fish, drift with the current while casting close to the bank to locate a school. Once you find them you can drift past a spot then circle back upstream to repeat the process. If a fish comes off keep reeling in a steady manner, chances are good you will have another strike almost instantly from fish following your’s.

I put in at the ramp by the dam. I hate this ramp, it looks like a cow’s face. Steep is being nice about it. Everything was loaded, rods rigged, lunch in the cooler, it was time to fish. Heading downstream, warm spring air keeping me company, sun finally out, no boat traffic to disturb the river and fish waiting to be caught, I‘ve been waiting months on this. Years of fishing makes it easier to disregard banks that look like fish would use them but don’t and I pass several to get to a good one a few minutes away. I drop my trolling motor in, grab a rod and start casting while spinning the bow back upstream.

The spot isn’t anything special, just a high dirt bank slowly sliding into the current with a few stumps here and there but stripe always hold here. My first drift ends with no hits, I head back to the top of the run and start again, it takes a few drifts to find how deep the fish are holding. This spot gives up 4 or 5 nice fish close to 2 pounds each. I drift down to get far enough away so the motor won’t spook the school, I’ll hit it again on the way back, start up and angle across the river to get to a small creek.

It isn’t much as creeks go, maybe 15 feet across with a small eddy, I catch fish here almost every trip, I am hoping for big females. Around cast number 3 I get my wish as one loads up bending my rod double, taking some line even. Stripe like to turn sideways or go nose down which makes big ones a hand full in current. I get her into the live well, my first 3 pounder, then catch 4 more good fish in 4 casts, this is what I hoped for. Fish are here in numbers when even a small spot gives up this many this fast without a bunch of them being little males. I let the boat drift down in the heavy current to get to my next bank just a few hundred yards downstream. Now it get easier because I know how far to let my jig fall and how fast to retrieve.

The rest of the day goes pretty much the same. Hit a spot for a few drifts, taking fish all along the way with an occasional bonus of a sauger near creek mouths where some stragglers are holding. On days like this when the good fish are here there isn’t much like it. Every few casts gets you a rod popping strike from a big stripe. I have a bunch come off during the fight only to hook another within a foot or two. My live well is filling up, exposed skin is turning red under spring sun, shoulders, arms and wrists finally give up after hours of nonstop casting and hauling in big stripe. Time to point the boat upstream and head home.

We have made this trip for many years, since I was a kid in fact. I learned to fish this stretch of river from Don McIntyre, yep Don taught me a lot about fishing (see last post). I took my Dad there years ago and taught him about the stripe. It was the only place he ever fished and quit because his arms hurt too bad to keep going. Strings of 80-100 big fish were nothing back when we kept those numbers, these days we keep less but catch just as many with sizes as big as ever.

The Cumberland is a big river, you need a boat to fish it, smaller rivers where you can stand on the bank produce big numbers of stripe, too. The Stones River near Murfreesboro or some larger creeks feeding into Percy Priest lake have great stripe runs in the spring as does Mansker Creek below Old Hickory Dam and the banks below the dam itself. There are spots like this all over, most are under fished when it comes to stripe even though they are abundant and easy to catch.

It is getting close, time to check rivers and creeks, tie on a few jigs and catch some of the hardest fighting fish around. Big numbers, good fish, simple tackle, all things that make spring fishing so great.

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Summer Dreams

I’m a true fan of top water fishing. I love to fish with anything from worms dug in my backyard to custom lures but top water for me is it. The skill in reading cover, conditions of the water and weather then even more skill in working that bait to tempt strikes is the challenge I want. I hardly ever claim to have a favorite in anything but in top water lures I have three, a #9 floating Rapala, Crippled Killer in small size and a Jitterbug. These have been around forever but have fallen on hard times as other baits take their place on the lines of fishermen. This works to my advantage, fish aren’t used to having them drug past their snout every day during warm weather when top water strikes can make your day. Another technique I rarely see anymore is buzzing a spinner bait just under the surface, creating a wake that drives bass nuts. And last to add to my chances on top water days I like to swim a worm rather than drag it along the bottom. All of this I learned long ago from Don McIntyre who was one of the best all around outdoorsmen I have ever known.

I hitched up the boat and headed to Priest for some bass fishing. It was mid summer, the forecast called for a blue bird sky, blistering hot temps and no wind. We, we being me and the twins Brian and Keith, spent all winter working building fishing spots with logs, stumps, rocks and brush piles to prepare for this time of year . When spring rolled around and waters began to rise we had close to 200 spots out. We had planned well, as the water got to summer pool no brush was more than a few inches above the surface. Any poking above the surface were cut off with hedge clippers to keep them hidden. We knew our lake well and none of the spots were wasted by being placed where fish wouldn’t use them.

My favorite area was and is mid lake on Percy Priest fishing out of Four Corners boat dock. I launched and headed to the Spot bank, my normal place to begin, it got it‘s name from the number of Cordell Spots we found there during low water. This is a chunk rock bank that takes hundreds of yards to slope off to 15 feet of water. About a dozen brush piles had been placed along here and a good rock fence runs just under the surface along a long section. I had rigged with 7 ¼” purple worms and a small Crippled Killer, these were about all I fished during the summer months since I never fished in more than 10 feet of water. Don, the twins’ Dad, had taught us three baits consistently caught big fish, spinner bait, top water bait and a worm, we used these to catch many a limit on local lakes. I know that part of it was learning to use a limited number of baits really well rather than spend all day changing and hoping, those ideas worked then and work now.

I pulled up to look for a dark spot that signaled a brush pile was there. The first few casts will be with a Crippled Killer but if it doesn’t bring a strike then it was time to throw a worm to see if that would work. This simple two bait technique caught fish when cranking was just exercise. The Crippled Killer is fished in a fast twitch pause method but pauses were very short contrary to what all the magazines tell us about slow, long pause top water. I want aggressive fish on top and the worms take care of the lazy ones.

Coming along side the first brush pile, I made a cast past it by several feet and started the retrieve. The bait walked and sputtered it’s way past the dark water marking the brush without a taker. After a couple of more casts without a hit I tossed a worm past and swam it by the pile. Just as it got to my side the line jumped followed by a solid thump. Dropping the rod tip, spinning the reel handle gave the fish a second to take and me a second to tighten my line. Pointing the rod tip at the running fish I set back and had a nice 2 pounder on. It didn’t take long to boat him since I fished 17# line on my bait caster/worm rod combo. While it might seem like a fish story saying I got one right off this was normal fishing these spots during summer the fish loved them. I got it unhooked, released and moved on.

A few spots later as the Crippled Killer spit and splashed to the edge of the twigs just under the surface I saw a flash of green and silver. I managed half a twitch more before water flew in sparkling crescents as a solid 3# plus largemouth blasted out of the lake. It crashed back down then put on a show of head shakes and tail walks, thinking it was far bigger than it was. I got it in, thanked and as I tossed it back in it was probably wondering about aliens and abductions.

I spent the day repeating this process at each brush pile, rock pile or log we had put in. While not all hold fish it is an effective way to target summer bass. The good part it allows you to catch fish during a part of the day when most people are out on the ledges or stump rows fishing deep so you have the shallows to yourself. They couldn’t believe I was catching fish in 3-4 feet of water on top. In fact when I went to the dock for a break I would change baits to fool anyone sneaking a peek into my boat. During the summer months this simple method of fishing has caught me many a fish. Hot water, aggressive fish and, in my case, man made cover allowed me to catch fish when other folks struggled or went to night fishing. This is keeping with my idea of going after fish where other people pass them by or simply refuse to believe that fish are in these areas.

These are all techniques that were used back in the day but have fallen out of favor in the run faster jump higher fishing of today. These techniques worked then and still do although most people spend time trying all of the new thoughts of pros rather than listening to the grizzled old guy at the dock that knows his stuff. Many days all I need are three simple baits which can be fished in many different ways to catch fish. Some times all you need to do is step back from the glitz to find things that catch fish rather than fishermen. Here are a few pics of the baits and rigging I use to go after shallow bass on miserable hot days.
This is how I rig worms for swimming. I usually use an 1/8th ounce egg sinker rather than a bullet style slip sinker but either works fine simply thread it onto the line. Instead of Texas rigging I use a 4/0 hook with a weed guard which I soften by bending the wire back and forth. This keeps it from hitting the fish in the mouth when they take the bait. Lightly clip the weed guard under the hook tip after threading the worm onto the hook. When I fish these shallow spots with a worm it never touches the bottom. You make a soft cast past the spot then add action by raising and lowering the tip of your rod a few inches, reeling fast enough to keep the worm at the same depth as you work it back. The more erratic the rod tip moves the better. You let the worm sink to different depths to find fish but don’t drag it along the bottom. Watch your line since it will jump several inches almost every time a fish hits before you feel it. This is old school rigging but still works for this technique.

The Crippled Killer isn’t easy to find in stores these days so I make my own out of cedar. The nice part is painting them in whatever pattern I want but most wind up in a standard shad. I buy all of the hardware in bulk since it is cheap then add it to the finished lures. It also lets me add larger props if I want to have a bait that creates more splash and noise.

Many days the things Don taught me 40 years ago work as well or better than anything new. Good techniques, old or new, are still good techniques to have in your arsenal. Take a look at how it used to be done, there are many surprises to be found.

Tuesday, March 8, 2011

The Other Me

Most blogs I read and friends I talk to are somehow related to things outdoors. Whether we are talking hunting, fishing, camping or whatever it is normally along these lines. So I thought I would write about something else I enjoy and have for almost 40 years but many people have no idea that I practice, study and teach. No, not art or woodworking, this isn’t a how to or try this post but a bit of a ramble about the other me.

I am a martial artist.

Always having hated organized team sports I never got to join in what other kids did. I was terribly over weight plus my interests were in hunting and fishing not chasing some stupid ball around a field to no purpose. I learned fast as a kid organized sports are for the few not the many. If you are good then you play, if not, you aren‘t wanted. Being over weight meant when I did try to play I only got to play one position, ass back.

I would get off the bench to play and the coach would yell, “Get your ass back.”

Then one afternoon my Mom said we were going to the movies and that changed everything. We went to a now closed theater in Nashville where a movie from China was playing with the guy from a TV show called “The Green Hornet”, Bruce Lee in “Fists of Fury”. Like many other kids that was all it took. After seeing Bruce Lee in that movie I read everything I could find about martial arts. I learned my first stances and moves from instructional books since I didn’t have money to attend a school. When I had enough money to go for real training I started in a Tae Kwon Do school since there were only two styles in our area to study. I studied with Master Kong who had been all Korean Champion and to this day I am amazed at what he could do. But due to a run in with a ‘68 Impala vs. my motorcycle in which I came out on the wrong end I was in constant pain doing this style. I drifted through several styles that had begun to show up in the Nashville area where I grew up but never found anything I really wanted to stick with. I trained with friends for many years in what is now considered Mixed Martial Arts or Bruce Lee‘s Jeet Kune Do concept, learning from different people and using what worked for me.

Finally in the mid ‘90s I ran across a Wing Chun Kung Fu school near me. For years there had only been one around, owned by Sifu Rusty Gray, but I never lived near enough to attend so was excited to find a different one. I went to check it out and found that a friend’s brother was a student so I could ask questions and get real answers about the school. This was what I had looked for to continue my training, a softer style that didn’t cause me pain harder styles did with a long history which I love to study. I started that week. Over time this school closed when the owners moved to Texas so a group of us got together to train in a warehouse for several years. This was a small class with a new teacher from a different lineage but we learned a lot and always had fun, to be honest more than in the school that closed.

My buddy Robert on right when I got my first Black Sash at the old school.

Playing with sticks

Me and Josh training at the warehouse.

This turned into a formal school in Lebanon TN which I still attend when I can. It has grown and changed over the years now offering training in traditional Wing Chun, MMA and to police officers but it is still what I think of as my school, meaning where my teacher is located. I don’t get there much but I am lucky in that I know most of the school owners in this area and have a standing invitation to train with them whenever I like. It’s nice to have friends.

Weapons class at Progressive Martial Arts in Murfreesboro TN a few nights ago. The owners are DeLisa, in black on left and Billy, holding sword on right in camo shorts.

I get asked if I am ranked in what I study, yes I am. I am ranked by 4 different Wing Chun organizations but this is the part I don’t talk about much since I always thought of it as showing off or bragging when people tell how high a rank they are. Let’s just say I stuck with it past the point other people stop. Most people that quit going to classes after years of study do it when they get to first degree in whatever style they study. I’ve never understood this since this is the point where things make sense and real learning begins. I now have a ranking from Sijo Rusty Gray owner of the first Kung Fu school I saw but couldn’t attend as a kid. After all these years I am still learning, there is no end of knowledge to be gained and I’m still able to train, hard to beat that.

So now you know, I do other things besides hunt and fish. Hope you liked finding out a bit about the other me. I will end with some shots I’ve taken over the years. Some are really bad, others just kinda sorta bad. These are students, teachers and friends from several schools around Murfreesboro and Lebanon.

Sijo Rusty Gray and Sigung Jimmy Tarpley. Jimmy is my teacher, Rusty was his.

Finally a recent shot of me. I hate cameras by the way.

Collectible Lure and Bonus Give away

  This is my first time to offer a collectible lure. In keeping with my Nostalgia theme I am making a total of 25 top water lures out of my limited supply of black walnut. Each will be made individually, no two will be exactly alike, then will be hand sanded and finished. After each one is stained it will have hand painted details added along with hardware then signed and numbered. After 25 are sold I will not offer this pattern again signed and numbered in walnut. Each lure will be 5-5 ½ inches in length, approximately 7/8 inch in diameter and come with a certificate.
  You will have a choice of a hand made wooden presentation box or display stand. All of the wood used is native to Tennessee and I harvested each piece. The boxes and bases will be made from oak, walnut, tulip poplar or cedar depending on availability.
  If you are a collector or want a present that can’t be found in any store here is your chance. They are $30.00 each with either the base or box included only add $2.00 s/h, if it is more I will pay it.
  As a bonus and a thank you, when all lures are sold I will draw a name and that person will receive an original watercolor. For each purchase you get a number assigned to your name, these will be placed in a random number generator to fairly chose the winner.
  If you would like to place an order contact me at
Thanks for taking a look. or on Twitter @ghost1066.

Friday, March 4, 2011

Painting Session Part 2

I had so many great comments on my Painting Session post that I decided to show more lures that I have done. Thanks goes out to everyone that stopped by for a look and commented here, on Twitter or in emails. Makes a feller feel good to know people enjoy what you do. Below are some of the baits I’ve painted recently, some for orders, others just to get a new pattern down. Some were tests to see if I liked them enough to offer on custom pieces. Not all made the cut or even this post, sometimes they are just ugly, can’t win them all.

I hope you enjoy this batch of paint jobs. I have listed the names of each paint pattern under the image in case anyone wants to place an order. Thanks again for all of the positive comments and for just stopping by.

Thursday, March 3, 2011

Groundhogs Down!

Way back when I spent large amounts of time chasing the wily groundhog. I would travel many miles for a chance to shoot them at long distance, up close, whatever. I had several farms in Adams, TN that I could hunt anytime I liked since whistle pigs were so thick permission wasn’t a problem. I seem to remember them having gas grills and picnic tables in front of their holes, partying down while herds of them denuded the fields, that part might just be me but there were lots of them. Anyway, farmers loved to see me coming to thin them out. Over time I took several people there to hunt and it was always a blast, I don’t think I ever went and didn’t get shots. Here is an early summer trip with my future ex brother in-law, Jeff.

As summer rolled around we would start to get ready for our chasing of the ground pig. My shooting buddy wasn’t a fisherman but loved pulling a trigger, either punching paper or groundhogs, both worked fine for Jeff. Oddly groundhogs were the only thing he hunted even though his brother was a big time deer hunter. We would head out to tune up our tools of destruction, burning more rounds at the range than we shot all summer at pigs. Jeff shot a scoped AR-15 but I am a bolt gun fan and had found a model 1500 S&W in .223 with a heavy, free floated, parkerized barrel, beautiful 2 pound trigger pull and oiled stock to which I added a good scope and a Harris bipod. Jeff’s AR was good but that Smith was a tack driver, one hole at 100 yards with 5 rounds was common. I seem to remember many 55 grain boat tailed hollow points and soft nosed running through that gun.

After we got tuned up we would head out to the fields. Adams, famous for the Bell Witch, has plenty of fields where you can see hundreds of yards, this part of Middle Tennessee starts to level off as you near the Kentucky line. Fields of soybeans and grass for hay separated by tree lines make a perfect home for pigs. Around the end of May we began our assault. Groundhog hunting is a matter of glassing till you find one then either shooting from your location or stalking to get into range or slipping along fence rows till you see one. This is a great reason to do this when you can’t deer hunt, your hunting skills really increase with this kind of practice. These guys are alert, live where there isn’t much cover to use in stalking and require skills to hunt.

We arrived at the farm, parking in front of the old brick house we got ready and simply walked around the to the backyard to start our hunt. The yard turned into a field which dropped down into a flat then rose again to end around 500 yards away where a barn sat on top of the next hill. The pigs liked to live down in the bottom where they were harder to see. We started glassing, looking for movement. After just a few minutes I looked to our left, there was a pig about 120 yards away halfway down the hill where we had never seen one before. I poked Jeff, pointed to the pig and told him to take the shot. He turned, got a rest on a fence post, as I watched through binos I heard the distinctive sound of his AR going off as pig number 1 dropped in it’s tracks.

We picked up number one as we moved down to a fence that ran down the middle of the field then up to the barn. Fence posts make great rifle rests for those longer shots. We saw our next one just about 300 yards out, since we had no cover and couldn’t get closer I decided to try a shot. I dropped the legs on my bipod, laid down in still damp grass, settled into the gun just to realize all I could see was grass. The hill was in the way and the grass was just too tall for me to see. I got up and quickly found a post to rest the rifle on, got on the scope only to hear,
“Too late it’s running.”
I settled the crosshairs, took lead and touched one off in one of those Zen moments of shooting. I just knew it was right without even thinking about it. Dust flew up in an expanding cloud where the pig had been as the rifle pushed back and I lost sight of the target.
“You missed.” Jeff says as he looked through his binos.
I got the scope back down, checked my spot and said, “Really? Then what is that laying down there with it’s feet in the air?”
Jeff says, “Oh Shit!! You hit it.” as dust settles where he can get a better view.
I stood up and we headed down to pick up hog number 2 after ranging the shot. 320 yards, slight downhill, zero value wind at a running groundhog. When we got there it had gotten to within 3 feet of it’s hole. The round had hit exactly on the left shoulder then exited the right, I am still proud of that shot.

As the day got on we drove around to some of the fields farther back on the property stopping to scan for pigs or the areas they had mowed down. By now it is midday, hot and the pigs have mostly gone underground. As we drove along a farm road at the edge of the field to check a new spot we, in a ditch about forty yards from us there was one sitting up in a scanning pose looking at us. Jeff stopped the truck, eased the door open to get out since you can’t shoot from a vehicle here. I looked to see if he had his AR but got a surprise when he chambered a round into his 1911 .45. He eased to the left front of the truck, got a rest on the hood and touched it off. I watched as the pig did a back flip and disappeared into the ditch. Jeff couldn’t see because of the recoil as the 220 grain soft point went to work and thought he missed.
“Nice shot.”
“Did I hit it?”
“If you didn’t kill it, it isn’t real happy right now.”
We walked over and found the pig had flipped in the air then fell right back down it’s hole headfirst. Hole in one. A .45 caliber bullet at 40 yards makes an impression on an 8 pound groundhog. He had hit it center mass with a frontal shot, other than the back flip, it never twitched.

We drove around to find places where pigs were feeding so we could watch them on our next trip since we had to head home soon. We were out of Cokes, Mountain Dew and beef jerky which pretty well ended the trip, well and the women folk waiting to go out that night to eat. We were lucky in the fact that our wives were very understanding about these trips and never once complained about them. Good times.

Some young ones taking a look around.

We got home, got the pigs cleaned and soaking in salt water with a few new stories and great memories to add to our list. After getting ready we headed over to Camden for catfish and steaks at the Catfish House, what a great way to end a day hunting plus we had pigs for barbecue later.

I still love hunting groundhogs but don’t get to go as much as I did. When summer rolls around fields green up and as I drive back roads I always find myself watching fencerows to catch movement telling me a groundhog is around. Maybe this year I can find a few spots close to me to get some trigger time.
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Born and raised in middle Tennessee.I'm a working wildlife and landscape artist specializing in watercolors. Now making cedar lures and custom turkey calls.



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